Getting off the (CEO) Track

User .Minh Luu
Posted Date : February 25, 2013

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While I have enjoyed making the contacts and hanging out in the CEO track sessions, I decided to session hop on Monday afternoon. 

I found, that while well meaning, the CEO air was a tad rarefied and discussion aimed high-brow as my colleagues discussed high-impact investments and donor embeddedness with a hint of detachment. Not a judgment, just an observation. In my previous life in higher education and the social justice movement, I used to get so frustrated with colleagues who only spoke with like-minded individuals. The discussion would be insular, myopic, and peppered with gross over-generalization. (Please know I’m being dramatic for contrast, not indictment.) So it was time to take my own advice and seek other discussions and points of view. 

I’ve stumbled across a couple of sessions that really stood out from others because of their contrast in style, vocabulary, and agenda. My afternoon sessions, for example, are a little more raw, a little more urgent, a little more activated. These sessions even wanted people to talk to each other in small groups (how radical!) The session, too, represented a diversity (your definition, any will do…) I hadn’t experienced so far. It felt very comfortable. 

One discussion that stuck out in my mind talked about intersections. Where are the leverage points of our intersections? Typically a matrix gets stronger, more textured, even more nuanced when there are multiple intersections. Yet it seems the antithesis of this is true in philanthropy. We-the collective, royal, over-simplified “we”-seem to want to distill and direct our funding in very specific ways that miss these intersections. 

Are they really missed opportunities? Or are they not, to use Sheryl Lee Ralph’s term, “sexy” enough yet in terms of issue and outcome? I wonder what you think? It’s great to have the time to look beyond ourselves while looking at ourselves. How does the power of our person drive, affect, or impact our interactions here at the conference and beyond? 

This comes full circle for me. I am an accidental philanthropist (get the Geena Davis reference?) I’ve come to this role through a very different path and think that diversity helps me see the work from a different lens. I’m still trying to see how this resonates within this space. Any insights? 

Michael Durnil is president of Simon Youth Foundation, a member of the Council on Foundations.

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